How to Duck Hunt: The Ultimate Guide

September 02, 2021 8 min read

How to Duck Hunt The Ultimate Guide

Duck hunting, and waterfowl hunting in general, is one of the oldest and most traditional forms of hunting. Every year, approximately one million hunters hunt ducks, geese and many other waterfowl species, harvesting over ten million birds. Although you may find some similarities if you already have some experience with deer hunting, the gear, skills, knowledge of environments and techniques required to become a skilled duck hunter are unlike any other hunting method. Following this guide can give you the information you need to get the most out of duck hunting season.


Duck hunting requires that you travel to the birds’ habitats, which often consist of marshy zones with bodies of water. Dressing for these environments is critical to remain safe, dry and out of the ducks’ sight.

  • Waders

Comfortably traversing duck habitats requires a good pair of waders. Most waders fall into two categories: chest-high and hip-high. Hip-high models are shorter and lighter, but chest-high models let you walk through deeper bodies of water, giving you far more flexibility to find the perfect vantage point. There are three main materials from which waders are typically made, including:

  • Neoprene waders are the top choice for keeping warm and comfortable. Although multiple thicknesses are available for different temperatures, in general, neoprene is ideal for cold water conditions.
  • Nylon waders are the lightest and the easiest to wear and remove but offer the least protection from the cold. Opt for these if you are hunting in warmer climates or early in the season.
  • Rubber waders are the most traditional choice. They are more affordable than other models and offer high durability. However, you’re likely to sweat more while wearing them. You must also remember that the rubber becomes stiff in colder temperatures, which could make them uncomfortable to wear.

dress for the environment

  • Camouflage

Unlike deer, which primarily rely on their sense of smell and ability to detect movement to evade predators, most waterfowl primarily rely on their eyesight. Ducks’ eyes are on the side of their head, sothey have a wider field of view than deer or humans, and their visual acuity is much higher than ours. They can perceive fine details up to three times farther than we can, they have high sensitivity to motion and light and they can even see partially into the ultraviolet range.

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However, duck eyesight has almost no depth perception. They compensate for this deficiency by rapidly moving their heads and observing a single object with each eye in rapid succession, forming a three-dimensional image in their minds. This disadvantage can be exploited by humans wearing proper camouflage; if waterfowl cannot easily distinguish you from the background, they will be unable to see you. Because duck eyes are primed to detect motion and light, it is crucial to wear camouflage and use camo objects that accurately match the environment and eliminate glare and light reflections.

Unlike the 1960s-era duck hunter spot camouflage, modern camo designs feature realistic, life-like patterns of reeds, grass, wetlands and tree barks. You can also find camo patterns to match foliage found in certain seasons for even better concealment. The patterns you’ll need depend primarily on your hunting location. If you are unsure about which ones you should buy, ask local duck hunters for recommendations.


Waterfowl hunting is strictly regulated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), with a long list of laws and regulations. Duck hunters in the United States almost exclusively use shotguns, primarily out of necessity, due to rules against hunting waterfowl with a handgun or a rifle. Although the USFWS regulations do not explicitly disallow bows, bowhunting ducks is a highly challenging activity that you should only attempt if you have extensive bow hunting experience.

duck hunting weapons

  • Finding the right shotgun

USFWS regulations stipulate that a shotgun used for duck hunting cannot hold more than three shells (including one in the chamber) and cannot be chambered in a caliber larger than 10-gauge. Other than these limitations, you’re free to choose the model you need. Like your clothing, your shotgun should be wrapped in camouflage matching your environment or, at the very least, have a matte or anti-glare finish that does not reflect sunlight much. Avoid stainless steel finishes because they are highly reflective and can distract other hunters.

The most popular choices on today’s market tend to be semi-automatic shotgunswith interchangeable chokes, as they enable hunters to take three rapid shots in quick succession. This capability is desirable when shooting at multiple birds or flocks. However, most semi-automatic shotguns are sensitive to the recoil energy developed by the ammunition. They may be subjected to malfunctions if the ammo you shoot is too mild.

You can, of course, opt for a pump-action instead because they allow you to shoot a greater variety of loads. Many hunters favor the pump-action 12-gauge shotgun because few firearms are more versatile. If you are recoil-sensitive, a pump-action lets you reliably shoot light and low-powered shells without having to switch to a smaller caliber, such as 20-gauge. You can then load the very same shotgun with more powerful shells as needed. If your shotgun has a 3" or a 3.5" chamber, you can also load and shoot shells of shorter lengths, giving you even more versatility.

  • Ammunition for waterfowl

It is critical to know and understand the local laws and regulations, as they impose restrictions on the types of ammunition you can use. Since the 1991 ban on lead shot for hunting migratory birds,supported by scientific evidence that lead contaminates the environment, it is illegal to use any shotgun ammunition loaded with lead projectiles for waterfowl hunting. Consequently, the gun industry developed various alternatives known as non-toxic ammunition, loaded with shot made from alternative metals, such as steel, bismuth and tungsten.

While some hunters dislike non-toxic shot, considering it unreliable, modern munitions companies have improved manufacturing practices to boost performance. Early-production ammunition used to be of questionable quality, particularly steel shot lots produced in the 1990s; however, today’s non-toxic ammo is safe and reliable and performs adequately. It is critical to understand that every metal behaves differently; e.g., #8 steel shot does not have the same range or patterns as #8 bismuth shot. You may even find variations in performance between different brands of the same shot size and metal. The only way to check a particular ammunition’s performance is to test it and practice with it.

shotgun ammunition duck decoy

Steel shot ammunition is the cheapest option and the most widely available. Steel shot employs a type of mild steel that isn’t as hard as the highly durable steel alloys used in gun barrels. Even then, most steel shot is housed in special cup-shaped wads to preserve your barrel’s life and prevent the pellets from scratching it.


Besides your gun, the two most essential tools for duck hunting are the decoys and the duck call. These items fulfill the same primary purpose: to bring the birds closer to your location and within shooting range.

  • Decoys

A decoy attracts live ducks by imitating their appearance. However, keep in mind that entirely static decoys may not always fool live ducks; after all, real ducks move, swim and flap their wings. A motorized or robot decoy capable of moving realistically is a worthwhile investment, as it is more likely to draw more ducks toward your location. If not, an inexpensive group of static models placed at strategic locations can still do the job.

  • Calls

Calls are specialized whistles designed to imitate the sounds of an animal. Mastering the use of a call is one of the most challenging aspects of duck hunting. You can produce an array of sounds with one, from basic quacks to various specialized sounds. Examples include the greeting call, the hail call, the whistling of a mallard or a pintail, the comeback call, and many more. You can also use electronic duck calls and apps to produce a realistic variety of calls. Practicing and training with your duck call is crucial. The best time to practice calling is during the off-season because there is no hunting pressure. Don’t wait until the season starts to field-test a new call.


While both forms of hunting employ blinds, duck hunting blinds are different from the ground blinds you’d typically use for deer hunting.

duck hunting blinds

  • Ground blinds

If you hunt from the ground, you will need a ground blind. However, the proper positioning and brushing techniques differ significantly from deer blinds. Waterfowl are flying creatures with good eyesight; if you are well-hidden from the ground but look obvious from the air, the birds will spot you. The ideal ground blind should blend in with the locale, having no more vegetation or foliage than its surroundings.

A mirrored blind is an excellent option if you can set it up with ample overhead coverage in the form of a tree or fallen branches.Ghost Blind hunting blinds use mirrored panels to reflect the surrounding environment to give you the most realistic camouflage possible. The portable folding design is easy to transport and set up in various locations, and the angle of the panels ensures they don’t reflect sunlight, spooking ducks close by. Narrow ports at the top of each panel provide ample visibility without giving away your location. 

  • Waterborne blinds

Many duck hunters hide in the duck’s watery habitat, using specialized, camouflaged and brushed-in boats intended to blend in with the vegetation surrounding the shores. This blind type is a good solution for well-equipped hunting groups, as they can use it to harvest numerous birds. However, it may be challenging to use and maintain if you hunt solo or with a single partner.

Shadow Hunter GhostBlind: The Only Blind with Adaptive Camouflage


While having the right gear and equipment is critical for duck hunting success, you also need to know when the season starts and where to find duck hunting spots.

  • Know the laws.

Duck hunting is a heavily regulated activity, and breaking the law comes at the risk of steep fines.Visit the USFWS website for a complete and up-to-date list of waterfowl hunting laws.

Although most states ask for no more than a hunting license, each has different licensing requirements for hunting waterfowl. Fees, conditions and validity durations may vary considerably from one state to the next. 

  • Know when the season starts.

Hunting seasons for ducks, geese and other waterfowl vary by state. Visit your state’s wildlife preservation website to learn about the next season’s dates, locations and bag limits. For example, if you live in Georgia and need to know the allowed species, bag limits, and dates for the 2021-2022 hunting season, theGeorgia Wildlife Resources Division has a website with all the latest information.

hunter in swampy water

  • Know where to hunt.

Every state gives waterfowl hunters access to high-quality, publicly accessible land, with plenty of opportunities to bag your limit. Your best source of information is your local state’s wildlife management website. Most of them possess interactive maps showing you where to find public land and any specific regulations in any given area if applicable.

Although public land is freely accessible, it is also the most popular choice, so you may have to compete with numerous other hunters and increased hunting pressure. Private land is another excellent option, as it typically faces much lower hunting pressure and may offer better opportunities than public land. The main hurdle is to obtain permission to hunt there. If you have scouted a good location but found out that it’s private land, ask the landowners for permission. Remember to be courteous and offer to share some of the animals you bag as a gesture of appreciation. Even if they refuse permission, remain polite and respect their decision. 


The right gear and knowledge of local regulations can make the difference between fulfilling your bag limit and coming home empty-handed. A high-quality hunting blind is the ideal piece of equipment to improve concealment and increase your chances of taking down a bird. Shadow Hunter Blinds is a market-leading innovator producing professional-grade, top-quality hunting blinds and accessories. We have over 25 years of experience building premium-quality products that offer maximum comfort and long-term value to our customers.


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